Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Dir. Jennifer M. Kroot
To Be Takei takes its title from a comment actor George Takei made after he heard about a Tennessee State Legislature bill that wanted to ban the word "gay" in schools. Takei suggested students substitute his name for gay, and say '"It's O.K. to be Takei!"
So there are multiple meanings to just what "To Be Takei" means in this new autobiographical documentary. In the film, the Star Trek actor weaves together the three dominant journeys of his life. Not surprisingly, his sexual orientation takes center stage as he traces his years trying to hide his homosexuality while being in a committed relationship with his partner, Brad Takei. Then, his advocacy for gay rights is chronicled in his very public support for measures that improve equality for the GLTB community.
Throughout this account, Takei also shares his memories of being a young prisoner in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. The injustice of his family losing everything and then confined behind barbed wire surrounded by machine guns made an indelible stamp on Takei's worldview. Again, his advocacy for reparations for victims of these camps is showcased which led to Takei's experiences becoming a 2012 musical, Allegiance.
Of course, Takei's professional life also plays an important part in his story, especially his role as helmsman Sulu on Star Trek. His popularity from this series is what will attract most viewers to this documentary, especially as it features interviews with colleagues Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig. Yes, William Shatner is also involved and, again not surprisingly, doesn't come off in the best light. But as demonstrated in his own words, his cold aloofness is a self-inflicted embarrassment. Seeing Takei give Shatner his comeuppance is alone worth the price of admission.
Takei's career wasn't just Star Trek, of course, as shown in clips from his other film and TV appearances with a focus on his time on the Howard Stern radio show. In short, To Be Takei delves deeply into George Takei's public and personal life, being both extremely entertaining and poignant.
At 93 minutes, some viewers may find the film a tad long. This is especially true of all the discussions on homosexuality which, at first, make important points, then reveal just how loving and committed the relationship between George and Brad is, and why George used his fame to champion civil rights. But this aspect of his story, central as it is, does get a bit thick and repetitive. Then again, there's an audience who will likely find Takei's personal journey uplifting and inspirational, and it's easy to see why Takei's popularity on Facebook has reached such extraordinary numbers.
To Be Takei is not just for Star Trek fans. It's not just for the LGTB community. It's not just for Asian-Americans who've had their own battles for inclusion in Hollywood and American society. It's a very personal story about courage, talent, love, and what it takes to make a difference. You can't watch this film without coming away with a deep respect for George Takei and the hope for the future he offers.